Title Gravity Company Image Works, 1990 by Ross Goodley - graphics by Pete Lyon Game Type Action Strategy Players 1 Compatibility All (No Caches) HD Installable No Submission Richard Hewison Review Before I start this review in earnest, it's probably best to admit a few things up front. Firstly, I worked for Image Works at the time that "Gravity" was published back in 1990, although I wasn't involved with its development in any way. I was subsequently assigned Project Manager on the follow up called "Drop Soldier". Unfortunately, that game was doomed to be unfinished and thus remains unpublished to this day. More on that a little later! In my opinion, "Gravity" is one of those 16-bit computer games that never quite got the success it deserved. If you like your science fiction to be grounded in science fact, and you also like complicated 3D strategy games, then "Gravity" would have been right up your street. Having said that, the plot behind "Gravity" was typical Space Opera stuff. It's the year 2321AD, and mankind has begun colonising the universe. Unfortunately, they have also encountered the Outies - an alien race who thirst for energy in the form of charged Black Holes. If they can't find any lying around, they convert nearby suns instead, usually wiping out any orbitting colonised planets along the way. It was the player's job to eradicate the entire Outie fleet. This was achieved by colonising planets, developing technology on those planets and (if they were lucky) tracing the Outies back to their home base and wiping them out for good. The above description barely does the game justice, as an enormous amount of effort went into its design. In particular, Ross Goodley took some basic principles from Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and created a game that was centred around how gravity in space actually works, and how spaceships might be able to travel from solar system to solar system. "Gravity" is played out in one small sector of the Milky Way Galaxy, with 128 randomly generated star systems to convert or colonise from a possible selection of 65,536. Star Command (aka Starcom) is the player's homebase. If the Outies destroyed Starcom, then it's game over. Starcom is also the strategic heart of the entire game. Once "Gravity" had finished loading from disk, Starcom immediately issues an order to the player's ship (the UNSS Hawking - one of 16 different Scoutcrafts at their disposal. Many of the craft are named after famous scientists or Astronomers like Einstein, Herschel and Newton). The ship under the player's direct control is designated the 'flagship', and when the player's ship is destroyed or they switch to any one of the other Scoutcrafts, that ship then becomes the flagship for the entire fleet. Initial orders from Starcom usually involve moving to a new solar system and colonising it. Essentially, Starcom issues the orders that should ultimately lead to victory if successfully executed. However, the level of Starcom Activity can be tailored by the player. If set to 0%, then Starcom issues no orders at all. The default setting was 50%, but at 99% Starcom would issue orders to the entire Scoutcraft fleet, leaving the player to only worry about their own ship and orders. If the player takes the decision to make the orders rather than receive them, then they set the activity level to low and can then issue orders to Starcom instead. Ignoring the strategy side of the game for a moment, the main action in "Gravity" is presented in 3D on a grid known as Einstein - Minkowski Four-Space. Basically, a 3D grid is laid over a backdrop of stars, and the grid shows the gravitational effects of any stars or planets that are in close proximity to the player's ship. It looks like the ship is gliding along the surface of the grid, following any hills or dips that it encounters on the grid along the way. However, without any counter thrust (from the ship's own engines), the ship will rapidly slide down into the dips created by the nearby stars and planets. This follows the unified 'curved space-time' theory which goes something like this; imagine holding a rubber sheet, and then placing a heavy billiard or snooker ball in the middle of the sheet. The ball would naturally create an indentation (or 'well') in the rubber. If you were then to roll a marble onto the sheet it would naturally follow the curve of the sheet created by the weight of the ball and fall inwards towards it. This is a practical way of demonstrating the theory behind how gravity works in space. "Gravity" the game also takes into effect the proximity of competing sources of gravitational pull on the player's ship. Once the ship has thrusted away from one source of gravity, another source might also start to have an effect on the ship's trajectory. This pull (along with the gravity wells) is shown on the player's long range radar. Controlling the ship in the Einstein - Minkowski Four-Space grid is simple - just use left and right keys to rotate the ship and another key to apply thrust. Fuel needed for the engines can be replenished by flying close by giant gas planets. Talking of engines, the ship comes supplied with two different types of engine - an ion drive and an orion system which detonates small fission bombs behind a specially created shield 440 times a second to channel the blasts and thrust the ship forwards. The player can easily switch engines at the press of a key. Apart from having room for engines, the ship also has a number of weaponry slots. By default, every craft starts with a Nova gun and a missile. The Nova gun is another facet of the game that is based upon a real scientific theory - in this case Stephen Hawking's 'Grand Unification of Forces'. For defence, the ship contains drones that can be launched to deal with any small Outie incursions in the area. They are equipped with an ion drive and a simple laser weapon. They can also be programmed via a Combat Orientated Language (COL) with a mixture of 14 commands. So how does a typical game of "Gravity" start? Having received an order to colonise a solar system, the player should immediately decide what level of activity they want Starcom to have. For beginners, set this to 99%, then take control of the UNSS Hawking and fly for the nearest singularity by using the long range radar and looking for any local gravity wells that have a singularity (black hole) at their centre. Steer and thrust the ship into the hole and they will emerge at the required destination (thanks to the orders being automatically programmed into the Holocube navigational system). Now start looking for a suitable planet to colonise. The player will need to bring up the ship's Tools module and have a Colony module ready to be launched by the time they encounter the planet. Once in close orbit, launch the module and then wait to be informed if a colony has been established. Once this is confirmed, Starcom will issue fresh orders. The player might encounter Outie ships en route. If they do, they can either rotate the ship and fire on them manually, or launch a drone and let it take care of them for you. The ship might also encounter a number of naturally occuring galactic phenomena, including asteroid showers and VarSings (variable singularities that simply pop into existence, crushing anything close by, and then disappearing again). Nobody said colonising a solar system was going to be easy! If fuel begins to run out, the player also needs to start searching for a nearby solar system with a giant gas planet. Flying close by to such a planet will allow the ship to refuel. Once colonies are established, the ship can also upgrade its drives, weapons, tools and so on once the planet has reached a certain technological level. There is much more to "Gravity" than what I've described here, but this should give most people a good idea of what to expect from the game. Unfortunately, "Gravity" failed to enjoy the success that it could have achieved, despite some good reviews from the magazines at the time. I have my own theories as to why this might be: Firstly, it was released at a time when licensed games were all the rage, especially movie tie-ins. Original games (especially strategy titles) were often over-looked by the punters. Secondly, the game suffered from excessive disk loading. It wasn't as big a problem on the Amiga version, as that came on one double sided 880kb disk, but the ST version came on two single-sided disks and disk swapping rapidly became a pain unless you had two drives. Thirdly, (and most importantly in my opinion) the manual included in the box let the game down badly. "Gravity" was a very complex game with a raft of features and things to do. Unfortunately, the manual was written more like a reference guide. It described all of the functions in the game, but it wasn't in any logical order. A player trying to play "Gravity" for the first time would have no idea what to do when the first Starcom order came inside the first 20 seconds. You would expect the manual to explain how to control the ship and move to your new destination early on, but no - the first mention doesn't appear until page 34 and even then it isn't very helpful - "To accept the mission, simply get out there and do your stuff..."! In fact, the first real clue as to how you are meant to do it isn't found until you read the programmer's tips on page 75! The Mirrorsoft marketing department took the decision in 1991 to give the Amiga version of "Gravity" away with CU Amiga magazine. I don't have a copy of the magazine to hand, but I doubt that the instructions given in the magazine would have been any more helpful than the considerably more detailed and longer instructions included in the manual! Although I worked for the publisher, I only started playing "Gravity" properly a few years after the game had been released. It took a long time to fathom out how to get through the first colonising mission, but gradually things began to become clearer. I won't pretend to have ever mastered the game or made significant progress, but I was always fascinated by the real scientific principles behind the design and how it all fitted together. As I mentioned at the very start, I was given Ross Goodley's follow up to "Gravity" to manage for Image Works in 1991. "Drop Soldier" was set in the same game universe, and continued the battle between mankind and the Outies. However, this time, the game was going to be played from the soldier's perspective. The player was going to be in command of a troop of 'drop soldiers' who would be hand picked on a mission-by-mission basis. Different soldiers had different skills that could be used to complete the missions successfully. The main game view in "Drop Soldier" was going to be from inside the soldier's helmet, looking out onto a 3D alien landscape. The soldiers were each equipped with a power-suit, capable of making enormous jumps across a planet's surface. Early development versions of the game had fairly bland and featureless planet surfaces, with ocaissional palm trees and a few buildings to wander around inside and explore. There might have been a few objects to collect as well, but actual missions were never implemented. Pete Lyon once again was creating the graphics for "Drop Soldier" with everything else being created by Ross Goodley. The development schedule was meant to be 14 months from start to finish, but Mirrorsoft went into Administration in late 1991 and the game never recovered. Remembering it now, I was always a little concerned that the Amiga and Atari ST weren't really up to the task. The 3D was a bit slow and a bit clunky, and although there were some very nice looking graduated sunset skies to look at, the rest of it might have ended up looking a little bland. Of course, had "Drop Soldier" been developed maybe three or four years later for the 486 VGA or SVGA IBM PC, then I think it could have been a very good game. If some of the game elements sound familiar, it might be because Ross was a big fan of Robert Heinlein's classic sci-fi war novel, Starship Troopers. The original novel had skinnies and bugs as the main protagonists and the soldiers had armoured suits that could leap miles in one bound. Soldiers were dropped in individual capsules from orbit onto the battlefield below. All of these elements were to be found in the original game specification. Hopefully this review might persuade a few people to hunt down "Gravity" and give it a go under emulation. The fact that you can run it at a faster speed under WinUAE or STeem should help the loading times issue, and the quick tips I've given for completing a simple colonisation mission should help get you started.